FEELING RULES AND SOCIAL EXCHANGE
Any gesture—a cool greeting, an appreciative laugh, the apology for an outburst—is measured against a prior sense of what is reasonably owed another, given the sort of bond involved. Against this background measure, some gestures will seem more than ample, others less. The exchange of gestures has in turn two aspects. It is an exchange of display acts—of surface acting—and an exchange of emotion work—of deep acting. In either case, rules (display rules or feeling rules), once agreed upon, establish the worth of a gesture and are thus used in social exchange to measure the worth of emotional gestures. Feeling rules thus establish the basis of worth to be ascribed to a range of gestures, including emotion work. Emotion work is a gesture in a social exchange; it has a function there and is not to be understood merely as a facet of personality.25
There seem to be two ways in which feeling rules come into play in social exchange. In the first, the individual takes the “owed” feeling to heart, takes
it seriously. For example, a young woman on the eve of her college graduation felt anxious and depressed but thought that she “ought to feel happy,” and that she “owed this happiness” to her parents for making her graduation possible.
To my parents and friends, graduation was a really big deal, especially for my parents, since I’m the oldest in the family. For some reason, however, I couldn’t get excited about it. I had had a good time at college and all, but I was ready to get out and 1 knew it. Also, we had practiced the ceremony so many times that it had lost its meaning to me. I put on an act, though, and tried to act real emotional and hug my friends and cry, but I knew inside I didn’t really feel it.2h
The young graduate “paid” her parents, we might say, in surface acting dissociated from her “real” definition of the situation. Going one step further, she could pay them with a gesture of deep acting—of trying to feel. A most generous gesture o:f all is the act of successful self-persuasion, of genuine feeling and frame change, a deep acting that jells, that works, that becomes what the emotion is, though it is nonetheless not a “natural” gift. The best gift, the gift the parents wish for, is, of course, their daughter’s real joy.
The second way feeling rules come into play in exchange is shown when the individual does not take the affective convention seriously but instead plays with it. For example, an airport observation: There are two airline ticket agents, one experienced, one new on the job. The new agent is l aced with the task of rewriting a complex ticket 1 involving change of date, lower fare, and credit of the difference between the previous and present fare to be made toward an air travel card, etc.). The new ticket agent looks for the “old hand,” who is gone, while the customers in line shift postures and stare intendy at the new agent. The old hand finally reappears after ten minutes, and the following conversation takes place: “I was looking for you. You’re supposed to be my instructor.” Old hand: “Gee,” with an ironic smile, “I am really sorry, I feel so bad I wasn’t here to help out” (they bodi laugh). The inappropriate feeling (lack of guilt, or sympathy) can be played upon in a way that says, “Don’t take my nonpayment in emotion work or display work personally. I don’t want to work here. You can understand that.” The laughter at an ironic distance from the affective convention suggests also an intimacy: we do not need these conventions to hold us together. We share our defiance of them.